“The Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Joyce Carol Oates
How I missed out on Ms. Oates for most of the first thirty years of my life is crazy, and something I plan to fix for the next thirty. (I turned 30 last week. I’m fine with this.)
“The Gravedigger’s Daughter” is not at all what I expected it to be. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention while reading the synopsis on the back of the book, but I was expecting an entirely different plot than I wound up with — which turned out to be awesome, because the plot I wound up with is riveting.
The story of Rebecca Schwart, the youngest child and only daughter of a Jewish family who flees to New York to escape WW2, this book is the complete and epic tale of a smart woman’s messed up life from birth to old age. From her early years living in the small-town graveyard where her father is the local gravedigger, to her marriage to an abusive and mysterious man, to her later years on the run with her piano prodigy son, each choice Rebecca makes guarantees the book never slows down or grows boring. A few of the violent scenes are stomach-churningly brutal to read, and you truly care about the outcome of every situation for Rebecca, and (once he enters the picture) her son, Niley.
Some books you read and can put down for a while without feeling bothered. Each time I set down my copy of “The Gravedigger’s Daughter,” I wondered what would happen next. There’s my recommendation for you.